Book Review: Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger
Author: Arjun Appadurai, : Duke University Press, 2006:pp xv+153.Price $ 18.95.
By Adfar Rashid Shah
About the Author
Arjun Appadurai, an Indian-American anthropologist has mostly been writing on modernity and globalization. He is currently a faculty member of New York University’s Media Culture and communication department in the Steinhardt School. Some of his prominent works include Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule (1981), Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy (1990), Found in Modernity at Large (1996) and Fear of Small Numbers (2006).This book under review reflects his wider conceptualization of violence through fear and terror tactics in the globalised era.
Brief Review of the Book:
The title of the book, ‘Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger’ is interesting. ‘Small numbers’ what the author terms as ‘predatory identities’ that do everything possible to reduce others for their own existence and are perilously self-conscious. Appadurai considers terror as the best tactic in this globalised age to fight wars even without the use of weapons, war fields or open war declarations .This is due to creation of fear psychosis via terror as a method in the age of cheap weaponry, human bombs, biological weapons, holy wars, etc.
The book revolves around the role of modernity and globalization in perpetrating violence for certain reasons, and discusses how globalization gives boost to geography of violence and anger as it creates polarity among riches and the poor across the world. Also, the major theme of the book is how exercise of brute power and economic encounters and conspiracies via globalization can breed violence and resentment against the west, especially the U.S. The book consists of six brief essays, where the author mainly discusses the global chaos and disorder amidst globalization, the anytime possibility of wars and more importantly the nation state’s inability to check initiate or control such wars exclusively, ethnic conflicts, genocides and terrorism. He also discusses the new tactics breeding violence under different shades like nationalism, religion, questions of identity, etc. It thus tries to reflect the violence in and of globalization in terms of cultural and ethnic identity clashes and confrontations. The text is not too old but based on the global events from 1998 to 2004.
The author’s conceptualizing violence is of two kinds; one that deals with the events which Eastern Europe, Rwanda and India witnessed in early 1990s, which, he argues, showed that the world in 1990s was not entirely progressing. Secondly, he introduces the concept of globalization and argues that this very phenomenon exposed various faults lying in the so-called holy ideologies based on nationhood and religion.
The book though not a massive text however seems a bit complicated as big jargons have been employed by the author, making the text a bit difficult to be comprehended in one reading. The author treats different facts of globalization as a promoter or, we can say, a fuelling agent to the increasing violent cultural and national fundamentalism. It also reflects present chaos in the contemporary era fostered by the proliferation of terrorism and the impact of globalization round the world.
In the first chapter, ‘From Ethnocide to Ideocide’, he introduces a new term ‘ideocide’, with which he means violence out of ideology or ideological supremacy or reductionism, which leads to intense rivalry, uncertainty and enmity among different nations or groups and he states terrorism is main source behind these uncertainties. Another term that he uses is ‘ethnocide’, which is ethnic cleansing or genocide of ethnic minorities, etc. Similarly, he uses the term ‘predatory identities’, which refers to those identities that for their existence need others as their prey like Jews of Israel and people of Palestine. He argues such identities emerge from clash between majority and national identities. The author talks of violence which he deems is culturally motivated and widespread in contemporary times. He further says the inherent ethnicist tendency in all the ideologies of nationalism does not explain why only some national politics becomes the cause for the large-scale violence, civil war or ethnic cleansing (p.4). The author is of the view that in the present globalised era, minorities are at risk and face severe challenges due to a plethora of national narratives, the idea of social integration and homogeneity of a nation. He feels these alienated and angry minorities are a threat to globalization in terms of its hatred and target at its drivers which is west, particularly the U.S.A.
The other type, he argues, is the violence in the name of “War on Terror” emerged after 9/11 episode. He calls the decade of 1990s as a decade of super violence, which witnessed accumulation of warfare by many countries.
For Appadurai, the masses are the large numbers, who are irrational and are shaped by outer forces like myths, public opinion, leaders, state, etc. He talks of the strong correlation between violence and globalization. While growing through the book,One gets the idea, that the author tries to discuss globalization as an agency of breeding violence, which is again the repercussion of economic and social factors and globalization as a factor impoverishing countries from the control of their own economies and as a product of it. Also different disabilities have emerged like rampant unemployment, disputed borders, unprecedented mobilization of workers, especially poor workers, who are its worst-hit victims and that is why he calls globalization a game.
In the third chapter, ‘Globalization and Violence’, Appadurai links terrorism with globalization, as it has given strong basis to it in terms of decentralized industries, trade and mass moments.
Terror, as one understands from the book, is an agency or tool of creating fear among those who have created their economic and power hegemony on the globe, which we can exemplify by the presence of American/NATO troops in many war-torn states and the subsequent sociological or political fallouts.
The author also discusses violence against civilian populations, what he calls terrorism as a tactic, which is witnessed simultaneously in conflict zones right now and for which you even do not need to come in open to fight or proclaim an open war. He argues, it is the fear which prepares the ground for violence particularly group violence like riots to extended violence. Many scholars think that it is this collective violence accompanied by large-scale killing, degradation of human dignity which was the characteristics of what he says totalitarianism like fascism and examples like in Mao’s time in China and in USSR in the time of Stalin and the like. He talks of the most recent violence in the form of dramas of violence that are staged in the name of religion, nationality, freedom and identity and gives examples of the videotaped kidnappings of victims, and their beheading, etc, with the sanction of what he calls militant Islam. However, the author can be criticized on the fact that violence perpetrated in Muslim countries or regions will definitely have its retaliation even somewhere else in the world and religions should not be labeled for that as there is no labeling like Christian terrorism, Hindu terrorism or Sikh terrorism then why label Muslim terrorism?
Appadurai says warfare in the civilized zones conducted with a view to eliminating war, by various counts, has outnumbered external wars. He says, the 9/11 attacks were a massive act of social punishment to punish America for its moral travesties around the world, especially in the Islamic world (p.17), is a reality which cannot be denied. We can exemplify it by stating about the America’s misadventures in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan or its intimidating tactics/terror against Iran or Syria to gain supremacy in the region can be put as an example for that. Again, the author’s perspective on power and violence relation is directly proportional like America’s oppression in the name of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. Simultaneous suicide bombers are proving fatal to American troops, and have created panic and fear among forces and powerful countries like U.S. that even now reportedly say they are ready to talk to Taliban. Appadurai, in the same way, talks of terrorism as an element leading to unpredictability and key to constant fear (p. 32).
In the last chapter, Grassroots, ‘Globalization in the Era of Ideocide’, the author argues that Huntington’s views on clash of civilizations, though debatable and controversial, are turning upside down applicable after 9/11 as it is not now the clash of civilization but a civilization of clashes of which terrorism spread worldwide is a product and with the result of such a situation the individual states are losing their control or monopoly on war.
Appadurai introduces yet another “CIDE” what he calls ‘civicide’ and argues Nazi ethnocide and genocide regarding world Jewry was very much the civilization of clashes and should be better called Ideocide or a clash of Civicides (p.117). The author draws heavily upon ethnocide and ideocide in the world as the strained relationships between peace and equity.
The book is well-balanced in arguments, ‘The geography of anger’ can be understood as all those changes which globalization has created in terms of various uncertain and complex ways in different geographies of the globe that are not what we call conventional minorities but numbers, perhaps used in the context of world powers and their power hegemony via terror to maintain their monopoly. Also small numbers can be understood as privileged, elites and great resource grabbers. In Appaduria’s opinion such numbers are a worry because they raise the specter of conspiracy, of the cell, the spy, the traitor, the dissident, or the revolutionary.
The book is definitely a good read for political analysts and the students of Sociology, Political Science, and International Relations as it argues about social clashes with violence, and the phenomenon of globalization and talks of its offshoots, that of terrorism, its role in budding poverty, uncontrolled state economies, losing control on the monopoly of war by nations, etc.
(Adfar rashid shah is a doctoral scholar of Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).